Paul Walker — BJJ brown belt — remembered by MMA community
Ronn Shiraki got a call one day about seven years ago at his Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym in Hawaii. A man on the other line said his name was Paul and he was interested in private lessons.
Shiraki was swamped with other clients at the time. He didn't think he had time for ''Paul.''
''I shoveled him off to somebody else,'' Shiraki told Fox Sports.
Shiraki, who runs Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu-Ronn Shiraki Academy in Honolulu, found out a few weeks later that ''Paul'' was movie star Paul Walker - and he was pretty darn good at BJJ.
Walker, a brown belt under Ricardo 'Franjinha' Miller in California, moved to Hawaii soon after and the two became close friends. Shiraki and his entire academy were devastated by Walker's death Saturday in a horrific car wreck.
''The reason why it's so hard to lose Paul is that despite his fame, he was genuinely one of the best guys I knew,'' Shiraki said. ''Seriously. That's why it was so hard to lose him."
A little more than a year ago, Shiraki remembers getting a call from the 'Fast and the Furious' star. Walker, known for his good deeds and charity work, was in London filming a movie, but for some reason he felt the need to call his friend and instructor. Coincidentally, Shiraki was going through a hard time and Walker offered to help in any way he could.
''He said, 'I just felt like I had to call you and check up on you,' '' Shiraki said. ''He was like, 'Is there anything I can do?' Financially, emotionally, he said he was there for me.''
Shiraki remembers Walker, 40, going to Haiti in 2010 to help the victims of an earthquake. That spurred the actor to create the charity, Reach Out Worldwide (ROWW), an organization that gives hands-on help to those affected by disasters across the planet. Walker was coming back from a ROWW event for Typhoon Haiyan when the accident happened.
UFC star Jake Shields knew Walker through Shields' trainer Tareq Azim. He remembers Walker's desire to change the world very well.
''I had seen him a few times in movies and I got to hang out with him on some long nights, had some long conversations about the world, (how he was) trying to fix things,'' Shields told Fox Sports. ''He was one of the most down-to-Earth guys I ever met.''
“He was one of the most down-to-earth guys I ever met.”
Walker was a huge UFC fan who was inspired to start training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu because of Royce Gracie's exploits in the early days of the organization.
''I just thought, wow this is a really cool sport,'' Walker said in an interview three years ago. ''This is something I''d like to do.''
He wasn't bad at it, either. Shiraki was always impressed by Walker''s sill despite his crazy travel schedule.
"If he wasn't an actor, he'd probably be very, very good,'' Shiraki said. ''He would probably be competing in the sport at a very high level.''
Walker's main gym was Paragon BJJ Academy in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he trained under Miller. 'Franjinha' and his students were rocked by the tragic news.
''No words can describe my feeling right now, just RIP Bro,'' Miller wrote on Facebook. ''Your kindness and friendship will be missed. I just can't believed it. But, I want to thank you for the great times and memories that we shared together. I will Never forget It. Go in peace my friend.''
Prior to the crash, Walker was set to reprise his role in 'The Fast and the Furious 7' alongside UFC royalty, Ronda Rousey.